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Hungary-Principles of Foreign Policy

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Hungary Index

When superpower relations deteriorated in the early to mid1980s , Hungary defined a role for small- and medium-sized states in maintaining ties between countries of the Warsaw Pact and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The reasons for Hungary's interest in East-West dialogue lay in its relatively liberal domestic policies as well as its foreign economic policies. Following the Revolution of 1956, the leadership determined that a policy of isolation threatened the stability of the Soviet alliance system in general and Hungary in particular. In addition, the leadership believed that without access to the world economy, Hungary's economy would continue to lag behind the economies of the West.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the crackdown on the Solidarity labor union movement in Poland, and the deployment of United States intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) in Western Europe led to a deterioration of relations between the superpowers. Hungary resisted this worsening of relations with the West. Thus, the theory that Hungary had won some freedom of action in the domestic sphere by remaining loyal to the Soviet Union in foreign policy lost much of its validity in the mid-1980s.

Several factors led Hungary to push for an independent stance. First, the Kadar regime believed that any return to economic isolation from the West would endanger policies designed to modernize the economy and to promote political liberalization. In turn, these two policies were intended to encourage popular political support for the regime and bolster its legitimacy. Their failure could have led to political catastrophe for the leadership. Second, Romania and the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) were pursuing their own independent initiatives with selected NATO countries. The Hungarians believed that their policy would also find supporters in Bulgaria and Poland, both of which needed help from the West to overcome their economic problems. Third, the Soviet leadership experienced internal differences over the issue of East-West relations. In 1984 some Soviet economists and political commentators positively evaluated the Hungarian reforms. The Kadar regime believed that it had allies in the top Soviet leadership, possibly including thenGeneral Secretary Konstantin U. Chernenko himself.

The Soviet Union used its allies in the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (CPC) to reply to Hungary's initiatives. On March 30, 1984, the CPC daily Rude Pravo published a scathing critique of Hungary's policy, which it labeled "one-sided particularism." The article maintained that the Hungarian stance would lead to a weakening of the common international strategy and foreign policy of the Warsaw Pact, encourage efforts by capitalist states to gain one-sided advantages by promoting differences among socialist states, and favor a narrow, nationally oriented approach to transitory economic difficulties. The Czechoslovak newspaper also argued that the Hungarians attached importance to distinctions between large and small states rather than to the class structure of these states. Finally, Rude Pravo complained that national interests were beginning to take precedence over the interests of the Soviet alliance system as a whole. Articles in several Soviet party and government publications echoed the Czechoslovak comments, suggesting that the CPC and the CPSU coordinated their attacks on Hungary.

Secretary of the Central Committee for Foreign Policy Matyas Szuros laid out Hungary's response to the charges of its allies. In 1984 Szuros began publishing his justifications for Hungary's stance. He later added other arguments to underscore Hungary's stance. Szuros averred that, although relations between the superpowers might be poor, historical traditions and contemporary geopolitical relations could encourage the development of relations between certain socialist states and certain capitalist states. Particularly the small- and medium-sized states in each alliance system, through dialogue and constructive relations, could improve the international atmosphere and thereby create possibilities for the improvement of relations between the United States and the Soviet Union. In turn, such an improvement could lead to an overall reduction of international tension.

Szuros believed that national interests had to be given more weight when formulating common Warsaw Pact positions on foreign policy and military issues. A conception of the common goals of socialist states could command the support of the individual socialist countries only if it took national interests into account. Szuros rejected the notion that, by pursuing its national interests, Hungary sought to gain one-sided advantages from the West. He wrote that as a result of historical and geopolitical factors, capitalist states showed different degrees of interest in developing relations with the various socialist states. Thus Bulgaria carried on intense relations with Greece and Turkey, and Austria and West Germany developed close relations with Hungary.

In 1985 and 1986, Szuros broadened these considerations when he wrote that the communist movement lacked an organizational and a political center that could enforce prescriptions for behavior. He argued that although a common ideology united the international communist movement, ideology was neither a code of dogma nor a closed system but a body of ideas undergoing constant change. Szuros therefore advocated the "proper adaptation" of the basic principles of Marxism-Leninism to specific national circumstances. These formulations justified renovations in domestic policy, in turn leading to innovations in foreign policy, including Hungary's opening to the West.

In July 1986, Szuros went beyond these arguments when he wrote that small- and medium-sized countries had more to lose in the event of a conflict between the superpowers than did the superpowers themselves. Therefore, smaller countries had objective interests in seeking and maintaining detente. Smaller countries also had a special responsibility to contribute to an atmosphere encouraging the reduction of tension, deepening of dialogue, and strengthening of trust. Therefore, claimed Szuros, small- and medium-sized states had interests of their own, regardless of their class structure.

Data as of September 1989

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